Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nursing homes

There's nothing sadder in my life right now than my two or three weekly visits to the nursing home. Helpless old people - mostly women - totally dependent on strangers for their basic needs.

You might ask why I don't pull my 90 year old mom out of there. I sometimes ask myself the same thing. But I must work as the main breadwinner of my own family and there's no way around that. 

Because my reading is often about gulags and such, I'm starting to see signs of the gulag mentality everywhere - especially at work - but that's another story.  At the nursing home it's all about the 'system'. The staff are very good at following the rules. They are the 'guards' - making sure that the system works. Patients must be washed, dressed and at the breakfast/lunch/dinner table so that they can be fed. The food is nutritional - if boring. They will not starve to death - like in a gulag - but that doesn't mean that they will enjoy their meals, either.

The biggest change I see in my mom - and I'm not blaming 'the system' here, is in the lack of awareness of the outside world. It's an artificial environment - not too hot, not too cold - always the same. The days of the week lose meaning and the daytime hours are focused around the bland meals. Partly this is because as we age - like children - we do become more self-centered, less interested in the the world. Getting down the hallways with the walker or the wheelchair is the big event of the day.

Death is not discussed and it's only visible when a bed is stripped and a room is declared vacant - ready for the next old person. 

But there are beautiful moments, too. There's a couple of cats that wander at will - they are prized glimpses of freedom. Then there's the old people who are capable of humor, of flirting even. They're like fresh breezes in a stale place where memory, pain and death are private.

Then there's the staff. Some dare to do more than just their job. Their personalities shine and my mom - for one - latches on to their humanity. A caregiver with a smile and an ear that really listens is the rainbow in this weatherless place.

Nursing homes - so full of people - can be the loneliest places on earth. And maybe they aren't like gulags at all - they're like nursery schools. And the old people - like children - would all benefit more from one-on-one.  Don't we all thrive with a little bit of attention?

2 comments:

Barrie said...

I worked a bit in a nursing home as a speech pathologist. Those could be quite tough days. And then someone would say something touching or funny, something very very human. And it would be a good day. What a very touching post, Gabe.

Loretta said...

My paternal grandma lived in a nursing home for many years. She had to. She had dementia. The front doors were locked and you coudln't get out and wander away unless you knew the number password. Sort of like jail. But at least they aren't shivering on the streets. At least they aren't killed off systematically because people think the elderly are old and useless. My hubby and I go to a care home once a month; I play the organ and he plays guitar and harmonica and we have a sing a long. The residents really enjoy it. I find it helps to get involved with the people; then you find out it's not so bad as it appears at first. Enjoy your youth, Gabriele! Thanks so much for the post.